Book Review: The Emperor’s Riddles, by Satyarth Nayak

A few years back, when I was in college, one of the events of our fest was a treasure hunt. Start with the first clue, and then look for the second whose location is revealed by the first, the third from the second and so on till the final one that leads us to the treasure which was a glass vase (and our prize). Imagine if a treasure hunt of such proportions was to be put into motion by a murder, and the end reveals the answers to the mystery of the murder and other questions. It is such a premise that is put across by the novel, The Emperor’s Riddles.

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The novel moves in two directions. The first is in the present time, where the murder of historian Ram Mathur sets the wheels of a treasure hunt into motion, in a way we wouldn’t have imagined. The clue left by the historian on his own forehead makes his daughter Sia decide to call upon the services of his good friend and mystery writer Om Patnaik to aid her in a quest for answers while the police department led by Suri investigate the historian’s brutal murder. The clues are in a way that we would feel impossible to believe. The quest, in treasure hunt fashion, takes them to the corners of the country, from Sarnath to Kashmir, Kerala to Kolkata.

In a parallel story, we’re taken time traveling to the time of an Emperor who wages war to make himself supreme ruler, and who faces the enigma that is the answer to Sia’s quest when the enigma threatens the survival of the human race.

The idea that a treasure hunt of such proportions can happen is something very exciting and starting with the way the duo (Sia and Om) solve the riddles and reveal the clues, till the last clue and the revelation of a final twist, the book managed to keep me hooked. More than just a quest, the plot went through what can be said as the legacy of India perhaps. The author takes ideas from mythology and history to concoct an impact in modern times, almost like a portent. I also liked the impact of the number 9 through the novel and the idea that what is thought of as the future already happened in the past. The final twist is something so unexpected that it made me wonder if it was even possible. Writing wise, the language is appealing and the research done to make the history part possible is quite extensive.

On a flipside, I did not feel much for the characters, and it was the curiosity to know what the next riddle would be and where it would lead them that made me turn the pages. The character of Alia Irani was interesting at first, but I didn’t understand why she was brought into the picture. The parallel timeline in the past, it felt confusing. I liked the idea, but I don’t feel it worked and some parts of it don’t add anything to the first timeline which is the key.

I loved the riddles, the mystery and the quest across the country, and especially the twist at the very end. The book overall was entertaining, but the alternate parallel timeline set in Indian history didn’t entertain as much as the quest itself. The thrill does spill however, and in the end, that’s what matters.


Why should you read it?
A plot with a treasure hunt that starts with a murder and sends the protagonists across the country was always going to be interesting, but an unexpected twist at the end made it even better. The writing is simple, and it kept me hooked. No other reason needed to read it.

What you may not like…
The alternate parallel timeline that is set in Indian history doesn’t entertain much at all, and after a while, feels boring. And the characters felt somewhat dull. The latter doesn’t have much impact because of the quest, but the former didn’t work at all in my opinion.


A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book Details:
Title: The Emperor’s Riddles
Series: N/a
Author: Satyarth Nayak
Genre: Historical Thriller
ISBN/ASIN: 9789381506455
Publisher: Amaryllis
Price: Rs. 299

 


This book was given to me for review by The Readers Cosmos Reviewers Programme. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills 2014 at Tales Pensieve.


(29th June 2014)

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Book Review: Gone with the Vindaloo, by Vikram Nair

A title that intrigues the foodie in me is always good. But it sets an expectation that the story would be just as delicious. The cover of the book, and the blurb together made me feel like that expectation would be met, and I took a bite into the book “Gone with the Vindaloo”, written by Vikram Nair.

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“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

The dialogue from food critic Anton Ego in the movie Ratatouille comes to mind when I read this book, which tells the story of a spinner of yarns, Kalaam, who finds out he can concoct delicious recipes and that gift passes to Pakwaan, his grandson, true heir to his cooking legacy. When his signature dish is tasted and admired by a Russian-American lady, Pakwaan’s journey in food becomes destined to cross the seven seas and reach the land of possibilities, America.

The story begins with promise, with beautiful descriptions of food, something a foodie would love.

“Onions were fried till golden, tossed with turmeric, garlic and ginger, and the marinated meat, red and full of hot promise, was thrown into the cauldron and left to simmer till the meat was cooked.”

Such mouth-watering descriptions help any food-based novel infinitely. To add to that is the “destined to cook” storyline which rings true of dreams coming true, even unknown ones. There are wonderful notes like the above description which bring a smile. The author’s narration is simple and that helps to interlink the many sub-stories (for the most part). Out of food, the novel still has some humor, the most memorable scene being the one concerning the family planning. It also has a realistic feel to it with the ending, something I didn’t see coming but felt it was right when I read it.

Unfortunately, for me, the story didn’t have enough pace in it to hold my interest for long stretches. Also the intermittent sex scenes didn’t work, and felt quite unneeded. It needed something to deliver a punch, an aromatic hit with words, but that did not come.

I wouldn’t recommend it for every food lover, but it’s not a very bad novel for a debut.


Rated a 6/10
Rated a 6/10

Book Details:
Title: Gone with the Vindaloo
Series: n/a
Author: Vikram Nair
Genre: Fiction
ISBN/ASIN: 9789350095898
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs. 350

Reviewed for Hachette India for a copy of the book, but the views are my own, and unbiased.


(29th June 2014)

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Book Review: Far Beyond The Dead End, by Saikat Baksi

There are very few historical fictions which have managed to keep me engaged. The catch to a historical thriller is that it must accomplish two things… firstly, transport me to the time in the past and paint that scene vividly; secondly, it must keep me glued to it to know what is going to happen in the next page. As with any thriller, there are two kinds. One that starts out with action and keeps that throughout the novel; and the other blends both detail and thrill. With “Far Beyond the Dead End”, Saikat Baksi brings out a novel of the latter kind, but one that is a love story more than anything else.

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The setting for the love story is Mohenjo-Daro, part of the Indus Valley Civilization that is steeped in Indian history. To explore a story there explores the setting as much as the characters. The author’s research in this is deep, and it makes the story much more believable I feel with ideas like bathing platforms and common well-rooms at the start of the novel, a council of leaders, seal-makers and such, even to the detail of clothing, and exchanging of gems as payment. The story starts in the present, but goes into a narration of a story three millennia ago. The story revolves around the three main characters – Koli, daughter of a council chief, beautiful and talented; Sindhu, artist and seal-maker, who is a friend of Koli’s father; Girad, who is in love (or lusting after) Koli.

The story is beautifully written. The language is simple and easy to read, and as I mentioned before, the research to bring that era to life is extensive. I like the characters as well, and I felt there are a few layers to some of them, especially the character of Koli. The depiction of life and society in those times is also well portrayed, with the concept of sacrifices to appease the gods for good fortune standing out. There aren’t as many twists in the plot as I had hoped there would be. It’s a fairly simple love story, with a hero, heroine and a villain. The mysterious deaths do add a bit more interest into the tale, but it came too deep into the novel. The initial parts of the book mostly deal with descriptions of the love/lust story and the sacrifice of a cow is the most interesting part. I’d have liked more of a thrill element in the initial parts. I also wanted to see more to the character of Girad. Granted he’s the villain of the tale, and what he does is logical, but his character felt strangely one-tone; only looking out for himself, doing what it mattered to achieve his end. And ending on a positive note (for the story), I liked the portrayal of how the end of a great civilization might have come about. It seems odd that not doing a sacrifice might bring about an end like that, but then again, it is what people believed in those times, and it is what the author does to stay true to that.

Overall, a nicely written historical fiction; more of a love story than a killer thriller, but it has the substance to keep it interesting.


Why should you read it?
Simple, easy to read narration; extensive research and nice characters; true to the time in which it is set.

What you may not like…
Not many twists; the pace is uneven. Starts out really descriptive and then all the thrill starts happening at one go. Though the end isn’t predictable, the actions of the characters are for the most part.


Rated a 7 on 10!
Rated a 7 on 10!

Book Details:
Title: Far Beyond The Dead End
Series: N/a
Author: Saikat Baksi
Genre: Historical Fiction
ISBN/ASIN: 9789382665120
Publisher: Srishti Publisher
Price: Rs. 150

 


This book was given to me for review by Srishti Publishers and Distributors. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills 2014 at Tales Pensieve.


(28th June 2014)

Book Review: How to Screw Up like a Pro, by Abirami M Krishnan

“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.” – Jim Butcher

But sometimes, even in the family, everything seems to have gone to hell. What then? I sometimes wonder if a family story where all things are happy and in-place feels right. In every family there is a bit of friction, a bit of misunderstanding or drama. It was the starting paragraph of the blurb that caught my interest, and made me nod in acceptance, though it would have to be a large family to have their share of so many kinds of characters.

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Looking back after the read, the story is basically that of the main protagonist Akola (Amirta Komala Lakshmi; kind of understand the reason why she’d want it shortened). It starts off with Akola, her siblings Arjun and Anjana, and her parents Suresh and Parvati house hunting – a very united family moment. After that, the pandemonium is unleashed with a flashback. The first test for the family is the news that Arjun has got his ex-girlfriend Priya pregnant. One angle of the novel deals with Arjun and his attempts to convince Priya to get married. The story moves with that, and through the lives of Akola who is busy with her doctorate, and Anjana who is busy making a name for herself in theater. Throw in two grandparents (Parvati’s father and Suresh’s mother) and a live-in nurse and you have the share of different characters who add to the drama. This novel “How to Screw Up like a Pro” takes us on a bumpy ride through the nuances of this “family” and their journeys, past and present.

Living up to the title and the cover, each character has screwed up in one way or the other at some point in their life. Easiest example for that is Arjun’s story with which we begin – him getting Priya pregnant. Suresh screwed up by having an extra-marital affair when Akola and her siblings were children. Each character feels genuine and has a balance to them. Arjun’s character, other than his “mistake”, is portrayed as a jovial, fun-loving yet protective brother. Even the minor characters involved seem to have a quirk, and they help in pushing the story of the main characters along. One of my favorite characters was that of Thiru, and I wish there was more to their story in the novel. Looking at it deeper, there are aspects like infidelity, abuse etc. explored, but the novel doesn’t pretend that it is about those issues. It is a family story, looking at how a family handles those issues when it crops up. The novel starts out as a light-read, with simple and casual tone of narration helping it along smoothly till the “frightening incident”. The way the author brings out the emotions of each character at that point and from that point is excellent. The book feels a tad heavy then, but it’s normal and realistic of course.

I don’t think there is much to criticize in the debut effort. Personally, I would have loved to read more about Thiru and Akola’s story, maybe another chapter toward that. Otherwise I’d say this book is what it is, a light-read with some twists and turns and laughs and tears; something that can be finished in a few hours and that has enough in it to hold the interest of the reader.


Why should you read it?
Casual narration; for the most part it is a light read and has the feel of a family story.

What you may not like…
Nothing big to say here, but I’d have liked another chapter toward the story of Akola and Thiru.


A rating of 8/10
A rating of 8/10

Book Details:
Title: How to Screw Up like a Pro
Series: N/a
Author: Abirami M Krishnan
Genre: Family Drama
ISBN/ASIN: 9789350092736
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs. 299

 


This book was given to me for review by Hachette India. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills 2014 at Tales Pensieve.


(28th June 2014)

Book Review: The Expressionist, by Akhila Sudhakar

We live in a time where everything is becoming device oriented, social networks are tempting to join and addictive once joined. Even the jokes that are on social networks tend to show that increasing influence of social networks, some going even as far as to tell that the first thing a mother might soon be doing immediately after giving birth is updating her status on social networks. It is a way to share our joy and see it multiply, but it may not be all hunky-dory as people might think. What if you, in a few hours after the first ping on a social network, fall head over heels in love with someone who you have never met before?

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The Expressionist, debut novel of Akhila Sudhakar explores such a tale in the modern era. Aashna, the protagonist… educated in a high profile all-girls school where she got her pride, finds it hard to settle elsewhere, has an idea about guys and is very selective in trying to meet new people. Relaxing after cracking a placement at her college, she adds a few guys on Facebook (from her old school’s alumni page), and three of them accepts at once. The third of the trio breaks through her selective filter immediately and thus sets off the novel. The story that follows tells of the evolving relationship between the two; from friends, to possible boyfriend, to boyfriend and finally the “let’s get married soon” phase. But any relationship has its problems and here too one crops up. Do the two find a way past it and a happy ending? You can read and find out.

Love is a genre that does not have a shortage of books. Especially if you look at Indian authors writing in English. Something must stand out in the novel if a book in that genre is to stand out of the crowd. In The Expressionist, that facet is the central character of Aashna Ramanujam who has a mix of qualities to her character. She is proud of her school, she is selective of her friends, sometimes taking time to form a bond with people, and at other times, just a minute. Finding someone who fits into her idea of the perfect guy, she begins to form her world around him. When problems start cropping up, she finds herself breaking too. The change portrayed in her character with the changes happening in the relationship feels very real, very vividly done. The quirky nature of her friends, who stand by her and give her varied advice when needed adds to the story too. The narration is nice. I wouldn’t say it kept me hooked to it from start to finish, but the language kept my interest. Whereas many stories in the love genre have a lot of editing errors, this one felt nice and the direct route taken for things like flirting, asking sexual questions and fantasies etc. felt right. I liked the ending though. The last line definitely is a memorable one. Lastly, the cover design is something that I liked, and feel would be very appealing if a paperback version is in the pipeline.

There are some things that, to me, felt a little unrealistic. Even though the current era is modern, parents and grandparents are mostly traditional. I didn’t feel that a father, who used to get worried for Aashna closing her door for a while, would accept a guy who his daughter hasn’t seen. A grandmother who was willing to talk on her behalf just by seeing the expressions on her face felt nice, but again, I didn’t think a grandparent would agree for the marriage just like that. I would have liked to see something being explored there perhaps. I quite understand the feeling of seeing a person’s face everywhere when in love, or just after breaking up. It showed obsession, and depth to the relationship. But the idea of almost every stranger having the same name felt odd. It was darkly humorous, but odd. Some parts of the book, I skimmed through. And lastly, I did not quite understand the title. Yes, Aashna’s character is very expressive, and the story too, but I didn’t quite understand why the novel is titled so, based on one paragraph at the end.

The novel is a good one. Though there are some things that didn’t quite gel with me, I feel it has story in it to keep the reader engaged, even if not finish it at one go.


Why should you read it?
A different love story, with a nice central character and other characters around her to match. The narration keeps the reader engaged in it and the ending is nice. And a cover that would be very appealing if a paperback version is in the pipeline.

What you may not like…
Some parts of the novel feel a bit unrealistic/odd in my opinion, and I didn’t quite understand the choice of title.


Rated a 7 on 10!
Rated a 7 on 10!

Book Details:
Title: The Expressionist
Series: N/a
Author: Akhila Sudhakar
Genre: Romantic Drama, Dark Comedy
ISBN/ASIN: B00K12HF1O
Publisher: Kindle Direct/Amazon
Price: INR. 151

 


The author gave me a copy of the book for review. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills 2014 at Tales Pensieve.


(13th June 2014)

Book Review: Living to be a Hundred, by Meera Shashidhara

“You’ll live a hundred years.”

How many of us might have been told this when we walked into a room at the exact time as the people there were talking of us. I haven’t really thought about what I’d do if I live a hundred years, but only wished that the life I live be satisfactory. The last century has seen a lot of landmark events, some good some bad. People who have lived through that, been a part of that, their thoughts and stories are something to take note of. To compile such a set of stories is something as difficult as it is interesting. And through this book, that is exactly what Meera Shashidhara does.

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Living to be a Hundred is a unique project, one that started out long back, but only came to fruition recently. The stories of people in it are interesting, to say the least. What is nice to see is that the people in it aren’t celebrities or famous people, but people who have led tough lives and reached the mark of one hundred years. Their life may not have left a mark on the world by name, but some have been part of those events which did. Their philosophies on life are sometimes so simple that it surprises. They’ve done what they had to do to survive. And though I may not understand what they had to do sometimes, I admire their strength for having done that.

Through these true stories, I almost felt what they felt… the irony of finding out you married an uneducated person when you are campaigning for more education, or the sadness of rejections that make you feel like taking an extreme step. Each person going past their obstacles showed that strength more. If the first half were their stories, their habits and routines, the second part explored their thoughts and philosophies on various things more. Their ideas on what accomplishment or passion is, what is inspiration and where they found it, what they felt to be the best time of their lives… they are worth reading.

Though a non-fiction, this book doesn’t come across like an essay. It’s almost like you are sitting with the person and having a chat over coffee. This way of putting it across makes it feel light and nice to read. The author mentions that it took a while for this project to get published. I’m glad that it did.


Why should you read it?
Inspiring stories of people who have lived a hundred years, been a part of important events and yet not well known. A non-fiction that keeps the reader engaged.


Rated a 7 on 10!
Rated a 7 on 10!

Book Details:
Title: Living to be a Hundred
Series: N/a
Author: Meera Shashidhara
Genre: Non-fiction
ISBN/ASIN: 9789381576464
Publisher: Leadstart Publishers
Price: INR. 195

 


This book was given to me for review by Leadstart Publishers. This is not a paid review.
The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and remain unbiased and uninfluenced.


Shared with
1) First Reads Challenge at b00k r3vi3ws
2) Indian Quills 2014 at Tales Pensieve.


(11th June 2014)